Tuesday, March 31, 2020


Frank Povah at the National Library of Australia

Rob has edited John Meredith’s film (Super 8) of the late Frank Povah, musician, poet, author, raconteur, writer and editor.

Frank plays autoharp and guitar and sings some interesting songs from various sources, including Tex Morton, Aboriginal performers and himself. He does some nice blues, as well.

The film is now available on our Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT7ySj0NJ88

Frank in his hut at Wollar

Sunday, March 29, 2020


Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Known to be in this group are: 56011 Claudio Lupi; 55608 Renato Giulotti; 56003 Antonio Anghelini; 56276 Riccardo Moltevto; 56263 Gino Mariotti; 56433 Salvatore Titella; 56186 Luigi Frati; 56464 Mario Zuccarelli; 56151 Giuseppe De Andres. 
Australian War Memorial 030176/20

Music is a vital part of Italian life, culture and identity. Readers will have seen media images of Italian music-making in the midst of the Corona pandemic, proof, if any were needed, of the importance of homemade music in personal, family and community coping with disaster.

During World War 2, Italian prisoners of war around the world sustained and entertained themselves with music of all kinds. Joanne Tapiolas has conducted a marathon research project into this little-known topic. You can access its many riches through her website at 

Joanne has researched this music and related information (including recipes) in many other places, as well as Australia, bringing it together in a fascinating e-book, Walking in Their Boots, chocka with great stories and photographs. Click on the ‘Publications’ tab on her website to purchase a copy.

Friday, March 27, 2020


Here's a few well-dressed musos serenading on a Murray Riverboat, c 1890s? Courtesy of Warren Fahey from the State Library of South Australia collection. Snappy hats.

Thursday, March 12, 2020


An example of how studying folklore can throw light on contemporary issues in a guest post from folklorists, Warren Fahey...

There was a time in Australian history when we sang boisterously and often. Singalongs at theatres, local halls and home were a major part of our popular entertainment. The songs ranged from latest hits to evergreens plus tearjerkers, folk songs and comic songs. Television put an end to our singing and marked the line where we shifted from being a people who entertained each other to a people who got entertained, mostly by the electronic media. We’re all the worse for it as passive entertainment has proven a health risk in more ways than one. Part of our sung repertoire included bawdy or filthy songs and there’s a case that the St. Kevin’s boys, with their sexist chant, (I wouldn’t deign to call it a song) are part of that continuing tradition. In fact, when I heard those  lines “I wish that all the ladies were waves in the ocean/and I was a surfer, I’d ride ‘em with my motion” I immediately recognised it as a version of a very old erotic folk song known as ‘Hares on the Mountain’ (otherwise titled ‘Blackbirds and Thrushes’) which offers verses like:

"If all those young men were as rushes a-growing,/Then all those pretty maidens will get scythes and go mowing’ and ‘If all you young men were hares on the mountain,/How many young girls would take guns and go hunting?’ The big surprise here is that the old song, and it probably dates back to the mid 1700s, comes at it from a female perspective. The first published version appeared in Samuel Lover’s 1838 novel Rory o’More. St Kevin’s version certainly lacks that sort of finesse and subtly. 

The bawdy song tradition in Australia was always strong and no doubt reflects our male dominated colonial society and particularly our key pastoral itinerant workforce of shearing and droving which were male exclusive with communal living. The early Australian pub with ‘men only’ in the public bar, was also conducive to rowdy and bawdy singing. I have been collecting and documenting Australian bawdry for nearly fifty years and, although it hasn’t completely disappeared, it is definitely a rare find. Some are local versions of Anglo, Canadian and American songs, and others are covered in mud, dust and sweat from our past. Classics like ‘The Bastard From The Bush,' ‘The Shearer’s Lament,' ‘Pull Me Dungarees Down, Sport’ and ‘The Barmaid With Gonorrhoea’ are certainly uniquely Australian. The P.C. Police did most of them in but so too did having television sets blaring out in public bars. One of the last bastion of bawdy songs were sporting clubs and especially private school rugby, hockey, skiing and rowing clubs. Rugby had the closest link with bawdy sings. Oddly, the other football codes rarely sang except on the occasional coach trip. AFL, being an early adopter of ‘family football’ never used the songs. 

Communal singing aided morale and we only have to look back to the development of bawdy song in both WW1 and WW2. One of our classic collections is from the troops in the New Guinea campaign: ‘Mess Hall Songs and Rhymes of the RAAF 1939-45’ has some shockers which would make St. Kevin’s song seem very mild. 

It is possible our bawdy song tradition goes back to our convict birth. The majority of convicts and early emigrants were decidedly lower, working class, and unlikely to be puritanical. They were usually seen as inveterate gamblers, boozers and devoted to bawdy behaviour and extremely bad language. The average bushman of the nineteenth century swore like a trooper, peppered his speech with the most extraordinary expressions but clammed shut, tight as a drum, in the presence of women. They hardly spoke in front of women let alone swear or sing a bawdy song. 

The real issue with the majority of bawdy songs is that they are demeaning to women, often violently. Women are generally seen as sex objects unwillingly or willingly participating in disgustingly gross behaviour. Once again this comes back to the fact that the songs have mostly been carried through the tradition by men, and mostly by men assembled together for a purpose such as war or competitive sport. Much of the justification has been put down to male bonding and camaraderie, especially in times of stress, and, of course, must be viewed from a historical perspective. Misogyny has no place in today’s society and it is clear the St Kevin’s boys crossed the line, especially by taking the song public.
In the twenty-first century our national larrikin stereotype is still seen as a gambler, boozer and swearer and this is possibly why international folklorists see us as one of the last bastions of bawdy song. This is no excuse for misogynistic songs which, like racist songs from our past, are best filed away as curios and reminders of roads we once travelled. 

Warren Fahey is a cultural historian. ‘Sing Us Anothery Dirty As Buggery: Australian Bawdy Songs, Recitations, Graffiti, Lavatory Humour and Drinking Toasts’ is available as an 820 page ebook. $13

Sunday, March 1, 2020


Having a yarn ...

Have a look at, and listen to, Dave Wheeler’s blog ‘A Canberra Boy’. Dave has collected a swag of tales, both tall and true, relating to Canberra and environs. You’ll also find some verandah music there, together with a range of other goodies reflecting Dave’s collecting, writing and thoughts on life.

You’ll also find a load of yarns and associated bullshit by Cockeye Bob here. Careful though, Bob hails from out Binangon way and can be prickly…

Wednesday, February 19, 2020


The Canadian/American writer and traveller Norman Duncan made a trip through Australia around 1913-14. He published (in America and England) a little-known account of his journey in 1915 under the title Australian Byways: The Narrative of a Sentimental Traveller. At one point he describes a scene in a bush pub that gives an insight into how traditional songs might have been transmitted, in this case ‘Flash Jack from Gundagai.’ This is a rare first-hand account of bush song in action in the period between Paterson’s Old Bush Songs initial publication and A L Lloyd’s account during the 1920s.

AT that very moment there was an astonishing quantity of music in the air. It began in roar; and it continued at the pitch of a roar scorning diminuendo and crescendo, or carelessly incapable of either, I am not sure which. At any rate, the neighborhood vibrated with melody. It originated in the bar. And at a word from the young jackaroo, it emerged from the bar, and stumbled into the railed inclosure, and sat down beside us, continuing fortissimo: the instrument of its production being, as you may know, one of the three drunken stockmen. Having run his ballad to the end, the stockman yielded to the quiet of the night and far-away place and turned out, at once, to be most amiably inclined in the matter of communicating his song. Not only did he communicate it, in a speaking voice, to be written down, but repeated the lines, in the interest of precision, and even assisted with the spelling, all with the air of a man who had at last found his calling and was perfectly aware of the gravity of its responsibilities. And then (said he) we must master the tune: this being particularly important to a perfect exposition of the whole composition. He sang again, therefore, occasionally interrupting him- self to inquire whether or not we had "caught" the melody, and beseeching us to join with him " vociferating with such fervor, his eyes blazing, his face working, and his forefinger beating the time, and leaning so close, and radiant of such gleeful absorbtion with his occupation, that we could not follow the melody at all, but must give a fascinated attention to the bristling visage and enrapt manner of the good fellow.

Here, then, I transcribe the song of the drunken stockman, called "Flash Jack from Gundagai":

I've shore at Burrabogie, an' I've shore at Toganmain, 
I've shore at Big Willandra, an' upon the Coleraine, But before th' shearin' was over, I've wished meself back again, Shearin' for ol' Tom Patterson on One Tree Plain.

All among th' wool, boys! Keep yer wide blades full, boys!
I kin do a respectable tally meself w'enever I likes t' try; 
But they know me 'round th' back-blocks as Flash Jack from Gundagai.

I've shore at Big Willandra, an' I've shore at Tilberoo, 
An' once I drew me blades, me boys, upon th' famed Barcoo,
At Cowan Downs an' Trida, as far as Moulamein; 
But I always was glad t' get back again t' One Tree Plain.

I've pinked 'em with the Wolseleys, an' I've rushed with B-bows,
An' shaved 'em in th' grease, me boys, with th' grass-seed showin' through;
 But I never slummed me pen, me boys, whate'r it might contain, 
While shearin' for ol' Tom Patterson on One Tree Plain.

I've been whalin' up the Lachlan, an' I've dossed on Cooper's Creek, 
An' once I rung Cudjingie shed, an' blued it in a week; 
But when Gabriel blows his trump, me boys, 111 catch the mornin’ train, 
An' push for ol' Tom Patterson's on One Tree Plain.

All among th' wool, boys! Keep yer wide blades full, boys!
I kin do a respectable tally meself w'enever I likes t' try; 
But they know me ‘round th' back-blocks as Flash Jack from Gundagai.

Flash Jack from Gundagai was a shearer of celebrated skill, if this boastful recital had the right of it " and the devil of a fellow, as well, and a bit on the other side of the law. When he pinked 'em with the Wolseleys he had employed a mechanical shearing- device so effectually that his sheep were clipped to the skin; and when he rushed with B-hows*, too, he had made amazing haste with the hand shears. When he rung Cudjingie shed he had proved himself the fastest shearer employed on that great station; and when he blued it in a week he had squandered the earnings of this glorious achievement, at some pot-house like Forty Mile Inn, in the tumultuous period of seven days. All this, being not yet too far gone in his potations, the stockman elucidated, with the profoundest determination to be exact, warning us, the while, that a deal of pernicious misinformation was let loose upon every new chum (tenderfoot) that came to the bush. (Pp 175-177).

* B-bows

Hear John Thompson sing it at his Australian folksong a day site


From the Archives - Colonial Dance Music, original research by Anne 
Pidcock. Mulga Wire, Aug 1984, no.44, pp.4-5

What Bush Dances? by Rob Willis (reprinted from Verandah Music with 

Bob Bolton Collection - Dance at Abercrombie Caves, April 1982

 From the archives - extracts from Mulga Wire no. 29, February 1982 - 
The Country Dance by Barbara Gibbons

 From the Archives - The Songs They Sang and the Dance Tunes They Played 
at the Old Time Bush Dances and other Material, Parts One and Two

Ken Fairey Collection

Report on Bundanoon DanceFest, 2019

The Music of Strange Bands, by Graham Seal

The Earliest Bush Bands, by Graham Seal

Thanks to Sandra Nixon

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


Anyone know anything about this great photograph? It comes with Broken Hill associations, courtesy of Ian Large and Jason Roweth, and depicts a very interesting group of nineteenth-century musos (1880s-90s?). The fiddlers and the bloke on the intriguing shovel-handle bass look faintly American, maybe it’s the hats! But the cornet-player (?) is wearing bowyangs, suggesting Australia. Any thoughts in Comments, please.

Sunday, February 9, 2020


Ma Seal by John Meredith

This article appeared in the Verandah Music book, now unavailable, so we thought it would be appropriate to republish it in the centenary year of John Meredith's birth, and also as a tribute to a truly remarkable traditional musician. Without the work of John Meredith, assisted in this case by Martin Fallding, Ma Seal's music would have remained completely undocumented.

You can hear the interviews here and read  a more detailed treatment in  Tunes of Ma Seal /​ collected by John Meredith and Peter Ellis ; compiled by Peter Ellis and David de Santi ; introduction by John Meredith; musical transcriptions by Harry Gardner ; arranged by David de Santi ; photographs by John Meredith.


Catherine (Kate or 'Ma') Seal was born on 11 February 1901 at Hawker, South Australia and lived there until her marriage in 1955 when she moved 265km south-west to the township of Kimba. When Kate was 5 years old, her father brought home an accordion. He told Kate and her brother that the first one that could play a tune on it could have it. Kate tells the story of how her brother picked up the instrument, and as he worked the bellows in and out, his tongue poked out and wagged from side to side, but without producing any music. Little Kate picked up the accordion and played it straight off,and so was awarded the prize.

Three years later, at the age of eight, Kate recalls being asked to play for a dance down at the railway grain sheds. They sat the little girl up on a couple of wheat sacks and she was doing fine until the rammed earth floor began to break up, and she was smothered by the rising dust.

This is an interesting recurring phenomena in the 19th century. Olive Schreiner describes a Boer wedding in South Africa where the floor, of clay and bullocks blood, did likewise; D.H. Lawrence, in his book Twilight In Italy, tells of a similar circumstance with a group of woodcutters dancing a mazurka on a soft brick floor getting smothered in dust. In one of Steele Rudd’s, On Our Selectionbooks he describes the identical thing happening at Dave's wedding. It seems that there was a traditional global occurrence, that dirt floors just did not stand up to dancing!

Ma also recalled that when she and her brother were little they used to run outside on Easter Sunday morning to watch the sun dance as it rose, which it was supposed to do on that day.

Ma told us that her mother was Irish, so maybe that accounts for her musicality. How I came to meet this remarkable lady is an interesting story. I wrote a book about the World War 1 Cooee march titled The Coo-eeswhich had a remarkable three-day launch at Gilgandra. While I was busy signing copies, a lady came up and asked me questions about certain bushrangers of the Gulargambone district, and I told her what I knew about them. A year or so later, in company with Chris Sullivan, I was in the Toorawheenah pub, when the same lady came up to us and asked what we were doing there. I explained that we were on a field collecting trip and asked did she know of any likely performers. She referred us to Errol Rhodda of Purlewagh, who recorded a lot of German tunes for us, played in a Germanic style, and who told us he grew up during the Depression at the top of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

Errol also gave me the name and address of Les Freeth of Buckleboo with whom he used to play with when a young man. When, on a field trip with Martin Falding in 1985, we called on and recorded Les Freeth, he directed us to Ma Seal, saying that she was a remarkable accordion player. And so she was!
Ma Seal, John Meredith and Martin Fallding
Martin Fallding and I called on Ma on 31 May 1985. At first she did not want to record for us. Then her neighbour, Connie Whitwell came in, and jollied Ma into performing for the recorder. Martin and I recorded some 36 tunes from Ma's playing, and we were entranced by her style. She had a light way of fingering, using a lot of decoration and 'embroidery' and had a habit of ending each tune with what in organ terms is called a 'grand swell'; a sort of triumphant flourish at the end of a piece.

Kate Seal learnt most of her tunes from an old man in Hawker called John Doman. She said that if you did not play one of his tunes correctly, he would take the accordion from you and play the tune himself! She played a lively set of polka tunes, and when I asked the names of them, she replied, "I've got no names for nothing!" 

Ma played a polka and said that the name of it was "The Berlin" or "The Cruet". We later found that "The Cruet" was "The Crued" which Peter Ellis translated as "The Kreutzer". In 1915, when the anti-German sentiment was at its height, this polka was renamed the "The Anzac", what else?

Included in the 36 tunes Ma played for Martin and me, were tunes for a complete set of "The Alberts Quadrille". She told us it had two set tunes and three waltzes. These were:

1st Figure - a 6/8 tune
2nd Figure - a 4/4 tune followed by the Irish Washerwoman
3rd Figure - a waltz which sounded like ‘Why Did My Master Sell Me’.
4th Figure - The Spanish Waltz and another unknown waltz
5th Figure - for the ladies chain, "Two Little Girls in Blue" and "Daisy"

My next visit was in company with Jamie Carlin on 26 August 1989 when we scored 37 tunes. And the third visit, when we wrung a recording session out of Ma by dogged persistence, was Peter Ellis and I on 19 September 1991, when we managed to squeeze 58 items from the dear old lady. At the age of 92, understandably Ma did not have the stamina of her early days, but she was still a remarkable performer with a style all of her own and is an extremely hard act to follow.

Perhaps one of her most remarkable tunes is that for the hitherto uncollected dance, "The Waltz Mazurka". It is a beautiful and strangely haunting air and a very unusual dance. The steps were worked out by Peter Ellis, in collaboration with Ma and Connie Whitehall. This is the tune by which I will always remember the remarkable Ma Seal.

John Meredith (March 1994)